Thursday, January 26, 2012

Countdown to Planyavsky at MIT (1 more day!)


Tomorrow is the big day! From 10 a.m. to noon at Boston University's Marsh Chapel, Peter Planyavsky will lead a masterclass, featuring organ students from BU and MIT. The repertoire will include Mendelssohn sonatas 2 & 3, Du Mage suite, and the Vivaldi-Bach A minor concerto (1st movement).

Then in the evening at 8 p.m. at MIT's Kresge Auditorium, Planyavsky will play a FREE recital on the 1955 Holtkamp organ, culminating in a grand improvisation.

Looking forward to seeing many of you at tomorrow's exciting events!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Countdown to Planyavsky at MIT (2 days)

"3 Questions: David Briggs on playing the organ in Kresge Auditorium"

(On January 16, 2011, David Briggs played a full-length recital in Kresge Auditorium -- the first by an internationally-renowned organist in 30 or 40 years.)

Q. MIT is not necessarily a sought-after place for organists to play, but the Institute does have
two organs — one in Kresge Auditorium, the other in Kresge Chapel —
built by the well-known Holtkamp Organ Company. Are you familiar with
Holtkamp organs?

A. I’m delighted to be performing on the Holtkamp Organ here at MIT. In fact, I played my
first-ever concert in the U.S. on a Holtkamp instrument. It was at the
Church of the Covenant in Cleveland, Ohio, in February 1997. I remember
five inches of lake-effect snow fell during the course of the concert,
and I improvised on “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer.”

Q. Why did you start playing the organ?

A. I’ve played the organ since I was six, although I didn’t have any lessons until the age of 12 —
after I’d reached a fairly high level on the piano and my feet could
properly reach the pedals. My grandfather was a well-known organist in
Birmingham, England, and I used to sit on the bench with him. When I was
nine, I became a chorister at St. Philip’s Cathedral, Birmingham, under
Roy Massey. It was at that period that I really decided I wanted to be
an organist. When I was 16, I studied in London with Richard Popplewell,
at the Chapel Royal. Richard was a fabulous and very generous teacher
as well as an extremely kind person. I lost my father when I was 16, and
Richard in many ways took over. I owe him a huge amount.

Q. MIT is synonymous with science and engineering. How or why do you think organ music relates to science?

A. The organ is the largest and most complex of all musical instruments. Many large
instruments have hundreds of thousands of moving parts and tens of
thousands of pipes. Each mechanical part (be it wind reservoir, pallet
magnet or wind stabilizer) has to work perfectly over a long period, and
each pipe has to be voiced to blend to the rest. The finest organs are
those that represent an ideal synthesis between artistic vision and
technical prowess. In other words, the very best instruments are the
result of many, many hours of skilled workmanship in terms of pipe
voicing, sophistication of key action, stability of voicing, excellence
of acoustic and so on. Then you have a true meeting of science and
music. Playing on such a large variety of instruments is a very
enriching experience — each time you have to ‘learn’ the instrument
because organs are so different to each other.

(Published on the MIT website on January 14, 2011.)

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Countdown to Planyavsky at MIT (3 days)

For the first piece on his program at MIT's Kresge Auditorium this Friday evening, Peter Planyavsky chose an interesting work: the Fantasy in B-flat Major by Alexandre Pierre F. Boëly (1785-1858).

Boëly holds an important — and fascinating — place in the history of French music. He has been called “one of those luckless figures in music.”

During much of the 19th century, France was a bit like Italy in that the musical mainstream consisted mostly of opera. Add to that the virulent anti-German sentiment of those times, and you can see why there weren’t many symphonies being written in France (and no important ones, that I can think of, between 1830 and 1886).

Boëly, meanwhile, was an outspoken opponent of this new Romantic music, favoring instead composers like Bach, Couperin, and Frescobaldi. From 1840 to 1851, Boëly played at St. Germain-l’Auxerrois in Paris, where he tirelessly promoted the music of his favorite composers – all of whom were dead, and none of whom were Romantic. After 11 years, St. Germain dismissed Boëly, who spent the rest of his career as a piano teacher in relative obscurity.

But this isn’t the whole story. Boëly had a great influence on future generations of French composers, especially Franck and Saint-Saëns – both of whom did indeed dare to write symphonies.

Meanwhile, as Daniel Roth has pointed out, one reason Widor was never promoted from Provisional Organist to Titular Organist of St. Sulpice in Paris is because the church authorities felt his playing was “too German.” Today we often forget how avant-garde it was for Widor to perform and edit so much Bach, or to compose music in a clearly Beethovenian style (such as the famous Andante Cantabile).

For all of this, the somewhat obscure, somewhat scorned Boëly laid the groundwork.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Countdown to Planyavsky at MIT (8 days)

Several of these posts have discussed the 1991 Rieger organ at the Stephansdom in Vienna, designed by Peter Planyavsky. However, I'm yet to speak of the history behind the preceding instruments.

I won't dwell on the length or the difficulty of the struggle to obtain the Rieger. Suffice it to say: Planyavsky became Domorganist in the 1960s. The Rieger came in the 1990s. 'Nuff said.

One problem was the sharp difference of opinion as to the worth of the large Kauffmann organ that still resides in the rear gallery. One camp felt that this postwar instrument was of inferior sound and cheap materials. The other camp felt the organ wasn't THAT bad; and because it is an example of that particular school of organbuilding, it is considered "historic."

What everyone agrees on, however, is the magnificence of the organ that the Kauffmann replaced.

The 1886 E. F. Walcker organ was an instrument that is hard for most of us to imagine today. Imagine a Romantic organ, of that vintage, with a Hauptwerk of 35 stops! 47 ranks! The 1881 E. F. Walcker at the Mariendom in Riga, Latvia, still exists. It gives us a sense of the aural and visual splendor that the larger, younger Walcker must have possessed.

The Stephansdom Walcker was destroyed by bombing during World War II.

Below: The 1881 E. F. Walcker organ at Riga Cathedral, Latvia.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Countdown to Planyavsky at MIT (9 days)

Today I was browsing the Holtkamp opus list and see what other instruments were built just before and just after the two MIT instruments. I was amazed at just how MANY instruments the firm built in that three- or four-year period. I was equally amazed, in a more melancholic way, how few of these instruments are still in existence ...

Opus Year Location (manuals-stops)

1701 1958 Christ Church Grosse Pointe, MI (IV-50)

1700 1957 Trinity Lutheran Church Moorhead MN (III-36)

1699 1958 University of California Berkeley CA (III-43)

1698 1956 Syracuse University Practice Organ Syracuse NY (II-4)

1697 1957 Church of the Cross Millwaukee WI (II-12)*

1696 1957 Immanuel Lutheran Church DesPlaines IL

1695 1957 Christ Church Cincinnati OH (IV-53)

1694 1957 Shorter College Rome GA (III-27)

1693 1956 Church of the good Shepherd Palos Heights IL (I-6)

1692 1956 Corpus Christi Catholic Church New York NY (III-23)

1691 1956 Kent School Kent CT

1690 1957 Lutheran Church of the Reformation Affton MO (I-6)

1689 1956 Episcopal Theological School Cambridge MA (III-32)

1688 1956 Chapel of the Cross San Fernando CA (I-6)

1687 1956 University Christian Church DesMoines IA (II-26)

1686 1956 Lutheran Church of the Resurrection Yandley PA (I-6)

1685 1955 University of Alabama - Practice Organ Tuscaloosa AL (I-4)

1684 1956 William Scheide Residence Princeton NJ (II-12)

1683 1955 Pilgrim Lutheran Church Marysville MI (I-6)

1682 1955 Northwestern University - Practice Organ Evanston IL (I-4)

1681 1956 Collingwood Presbyterian Church Toledo OH (III-43)

1680 1956 Massachusetts Institute of Technology Auditorium Cambridge MA (III-43)

1679 1955 Lutheran Church of the Ascension Birmingham MI (I-7)

1678 1954 Hope Lutheran Church Park Forest IL (I-6)

1677 1955 Wellesley College - Positiv Wellesley MA (I-3)

1676 1955 St. Stephens Episcopal Church Goldsboro NC (II-17)

1675 1955 St. Charles Catholic Church Parma OH (III-33)

1674 1955 Massachusetts Institute of Technology Chapel Cambridge MA (II-12)

1673 1957 Maryville College Chapel Maryville KY

1672 1954 St. Andrew's School Middleton DE (II-12)

1671 1954 Trinity Lutheran Church Houston TX (III-33)

1670 1954 Trinity Lutheran Church Grand Island NE (III-19)

1669 1954 Epsworth Euclid Methodist Church Cleveland OH (IV-60)

(Data collected from )

Photo: University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa (Holtkamp Op. 1685). Photo from the OHS Database. Note that the organ is II-12, even though it is listed as I-4 on the Holtkamp website.

* = This should read Chapel of the Cross, not Church of the Cross. It was installed as a I-8 but later enlarged to full size (II-15). Many thanks to David Bohn for bringing this error to my attention.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Countdown to Planyavsky at MIT (10 days)

An energetic and flowing reading of Bach's famous "Little Fugue in G minor" (BWV 578). From Peter Planyavsky's all-Bach recording on the Marcussen organ of Fukushima Concert Hall (recorded 1986).

Countdown to Planyavsky at MIT (11 days)

Some interesting comments by Peter Planyavsky on the possibilities of writing good music for the post-Vatican-II church:

"You are not to write a 'pretty' or 'interesting' piece which 'can also be performed in the liturgy,' but rather, you should truly compose above all for liturgical use – with all the consequences. ...

"All right, let's talk about the Responsorial Psalm. Whoever has in mind an awful, primitive, monotonous little ditty should please think again. Nowhere is it demanded that it may not be elaborate, dignified, polyphonic, and original. Fundamentally the structure of solo psalmody should be maintained, but there is much more that can be done with it. The same is true for the Alleluia verse. Further: the manifold possibilities of alternation by stanza between choir and congregation are not yet exhausted. ...

"So far, none of the church music alarmists has been able to explain to me how the task of setting the 150 psalms (that is 77 pages), compared to the Ordinary (that is two pages), represents a limitation. ...

"I resist any fundamental charge of a deficit for which the liturgy of the Second Vatican Council would be guilty. The foundational and functionally coherent involvement of the congregation (and that does not mean always, everywhere, constantly, and primitively!) is not a bureaucratic spawn of a few music-hating liturgists. Rather, it was a radical innovation of our [twentieth] century that was awaited with longing all across Europe and in many places already practiced illegally by anticipation. Again, I wish to emphasize, the effects for sacred msuic have been predominantly positive and inspiring to the imagination."

(Peter Planyavsky, "Komponieren, aber für die heutige katholische Liturgie" ("Compose, But for the Current Catholic Liturgy"), Singende Kirche, 1988f. English translations from "Sacred music and liturgical reform: treasures and transformations" by Anthony Ruff (2007).)

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Countdown to Planyavsky at MIT (12 days)

For decades, Peter Planyavsky was the organist and/or music director of the Stephansdom in Vienna, one of the world's great cathedrals. The highlight of his tenure was undoubtedly the installation of the Rieger organ in 1991. It must certainly be the most heroic 56-stop tracker ever built! Playing a concert on it in 2001, on my very first European tour, was one of the great thrills of my life (especially the Liszt B-A-C-H). The 32' Principal does not purr; it roars. And I remember the Pedal reeds 16' and 8' being so large-scale that, even in big pieces, I usually used one or the other. But then there were more delicate colors on the Brustwerk and elsewhere. In fact, I had no trouble finding the right textures for the Bach Trio Sonata that I played. (I can't think of many cathedrals in which I would attempt such a work.) On the Solowerk, the big reed with the big cornet enable a melody to soar above the rest of the organ in a very Planyavskian sound.

The Pipedreams website has featured this instrument in five of its problems. Links to all can be accessed from this page:

Photo: the author at the Stephansdom organ (July, 2001).

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Countdown to Planyavsky at MIT (13 days)

Last week in one of my posts, Marian Ruhl Metson wrote of her experience with the composition by Peter Planyavsky, "Fantasie in memoriam A.H." (The title refers, of course, to Anton Heiller). Below are YouTube links of this very interesting composition, played by a student of Planyavsky, Peter Peinstingl. (Part I) (Part II)

Friday, January 13, 2012

Countdown to Planyavsky at MIT (14 days)

By now you've heard me mention that on Friday, January 27, at 8 p.m., legendary Viennese organist Peter Planyavsky will play an organ recital at MIT's Kresge Auditorium. But I want to mention also that earlier that day, from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m., Planyavsky will give an organ masterclass at Boston University's Marsh Chapel, featuring a student from MIT and several students from BU's Master of Sacred Music program.

The Master of Sacred Music (MSM) program is quite an extraordinary one; there is not another program like it in Greater Boston. The MSM degree is offered jointly through the School of Theology and the School of Music and administered by the School of Theology. Since the MSM is essentially professional training for employment as a church musician, the program is offered with two concentrations: organ and choral conducting. The distinguished MSM faculty include Dr. Andrew Shenton (MSM Program Director) and Peter Sykes (organ). It's a program that's as wonderful as it is unique. Kind of wish I were a student again, so that I could enroll!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Countdown to Planyavsky at MIT (15 days)

Photo: The 1742 Schmahl organ in Sitzberg, near Zürich.

Peter Planyavsky was one of Heiller's greatest students and closest friends. He later became Heiller's biographer. Who was this Heiller character?

Anton Heiller was the greatest interpreter of Bach's organ works of his time -- maybe of all time. But there are several facts that are very interesting about this.

First: It's hard to think of anyone else of Heiller's generation or the generation before who played Bach anything like him. From whom did he learn how to play Bach like that? Who influenced him? Where did he get it? (I asked that question once to my teacher, the Heiller student Yuko Hayashi. She answered, "From Bach.")

Second: Heiller could as easily have had a career as a conductor. In fact, at age 23 he was offered the job as conductor of the Vienna State Opera! He turned it down. Why? So that he could devote more time to playing Bach on the organ!

There isn't space to speak of Heiller's Bach playing in any detail. But there is an anecdote worth repeating, told to me in 1994 by Yuko Hayashi.

YH: He played the Orgelbüchlein up in the hills near Zürich [Sitzberg]. An organ restored by Metzler [in 1961, built by G. F. Schmahl c. 1742] And I was assisting him, turning pages. Jean-Claude Zehnder was there. By the way, I'm not a good assistant, so I stayed away from doing it. But that one time in Switzerland when I did do it, it was so EASY. He had this rhythm in his body, and he didn't have to do anything like that [nodding]. He didn't have to nod, he BREATHED. And I felt his breathing. It was so easy.
LC: Like a singer, he breathed, and you knew exactly where to turn the page or pull the stop.
YH: And he was so relaxed. Before the concert he was very nervous. But when the music started … CALM.
LC: So he played the concert.
YH: First he had dinner. Then he went up to this mountain, when into the church, and started to try out registrations, one after another, while Jean-Claude Zehnder and a few students from out in the church would say, "That's good." Then it was time for the concert. Double the amount of people that the church could hold showed up! And you know what he did? He announced to the audience, "Half of you go back into town for dinner and come back later." He played the recital, the whole Orgelbüchlein. He smoked for ten minutes -- in those days he smoked. Now the second audience that had had dinner was in place in the church, and he played the recital AGAIN! I got tired just turning the pages. He got better and better. Meanwhile, there were cows around. The cows liked the music. You could see them through the windows and hear their beautiful bells.
LC: And this was all happening during the concert?
YH: Yes.
LC: It must have been idyllic, having this mixture of nature and classical music.
YH: Then I understand, after that, he recorded.
LC: He made his Orgelbüchlein record.
YH: Yes.

Peter Planyavsky plays a free organ recital at Kresge Auditorium, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, on Friday, January 27 at 8 p.m.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Countdown to Planyavsky at MIT (16 days)

Kresge Auditorium, as seen from the Chapel. (Photo by L. Ciampa, 12 Oct. '10)

Upon the death of his father Herman Heinrich ("Henry") Holtkamp (1858-1931), Walter Holtkamp, Sr. (1894-1962), assumed control of the company that was then called the Votteler-Holtkamp-Sparling Organ Company. Despite the financial difficulties of the Depression, Walter wasted little time in developing his radical ideas. His 1933 addition to the E. M. Skinner organ of the Cleveland Museum of Art (the first "Rückpositiv" ever built in North America), quickly established him as the most avant-garde organ builder in America. These Baroque-inspired instruments had a brightness and clarity completely unfamiliar to audiences of the 1930s, who were accustomed, instead, to the lush, woolly sounds of organs by E. M. Skinner - instruments more suitable for Wagner transcriptions than for Bach's great organ works.

In 1951 the company was renamed the Holtkamp Organ Company; Walter was named President. The company's finest work dates from this period, including important installations at Crouse College (Syracuse University) and Battell Chapel (Yale). The consultant for many Holtkamp instruments, including the two MIT organs, was Melville Smith (1898-1962), one of the most influential organists of his time. In addition to his involvement at MIT, Smith was President of the Longy School. Smith was one of the leaders of the so-called Organ Reform Movement, which repopularized the Baroque music and organs that Smith so loved. He had a particular passion for French Baroque organ music, especially that of the composer Nicolas de Grigny (1672-1703). This explains why on Chapel organ, the stop named "Cymbal" is actually a Sesquialtera.

Eero Saarinen (1910-1961) was a Finnish-born architect of world renown, known for such diverse creations as the St. Louis Arch and the tulip chairs on Star Trek. Saarinen designed and buit MIT's Kresge Auditorium and the smaller Chapel.

Why was Saarinen as amenable to acoustics and organ placement in the Chapel as he was unamenable to them in Kresge?

It is said that Walter did not enjoy building the Kresge organ. Besides the cramped space and unideal placement relegated by Saarinen's design, the auditorium was not ideal acoustically - a fact that didn't seem to disturb Saariren. Acoustics, Saarinen said in 1955, were a "modifying factor" but "not a science with the authority to impose a basic shape." Therefore, according to legend, Saarinen attempted to mollify Holtkamp with the Chapel, by providing him with an ideally placed organ loft and the type of acoustical environment about which organ builders dream.

Nevertheless, the Kresge instrument is a large and colorful one which fills the 1226-seat auditorium with some of Walter Holtkamp's most characteristic sounds.

John Allen Fergusen's judgment of the Chapel organ could easily be applied to the Kresge organ, as well:

"[The] organ appeared in the mid-fifties and embodied so much of the essence of Holtkamp's style, convictions and interests. ... [This organ] reveals Holtkamp, as much a radical in his field as Frank Lloyd Wright was in architecture, at work in a space designed by the respected contemporary architectural firm, Eero Saarinen and Associates. Here the combination of gifted organ builder working together with a creative architect demonstrates again that organ building, when practiced responsibly, can produce instruments of exceptional visual and aural distinction." (John Allen Ferguson, "Walter Holtkamp: American Organ Builder" (1979)).

Peter Planyavsky plays a free organ recital at Kresge Auditorium, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, on Friday, January 27 at 8 p.m.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Countdown to Planyavsky at MIT (17 days)

Peter Planyavsky at the Musikverein in Vienna (2011).

When Peter Planyavsky began his career, Victorian music, choral as well as organ, was virtually unknown in Austria; it was certainly not standard fare. In the ensuing decades, Planyavsky has been Austria's most energetic promoter of this repertoire. I asked him a few questions on the topic:

LC: Before you came on the scene, how much Victorian music, if any, was being sung and played in Austria?

PP: Most of the Victorian music was practically non existent here - Stanford's Beati quorum via was known and performed but nothing else. Now it's done a bit here and a bit there.

LC: How do the Austrians feel about this “exotic” music?

PP: People generally like it; harmonically, it is not so different from our own little things from the same period. The main difference is the use of the organ. But in Austria, there were no Swell divisions of the kind you need – and even if there were, the average organ would not have pistons. It was actually near to impossible to perform these things in Austria before the nineties!

LC: What sparked your interest in this repertoire?

PP: I have been in the UK a couple of times, plus Australia plus Canada, so I've heard quite a lot of it. But the actual "spark" was triggered in 1993. Then I started collecting CDs and introduced the music to St. Stephen's Cathedral. [At one time Planyavsky has the unusual dual responsbility at the Stephansdom of Organist and Music Director – traditionally two separate jobs in Austria.]

LC: Is there a particular concert of Victorian repertoire in Vienna that comes to your mind as being particularly memorable?

PP: One of the big events around the organ dedication in the Musikverein in Vienna was a choral-and-organ-concert where we did [Stainer's] I saw the Lord, plus [Britten's] Rejoice in the Lamb. [This took place on May 16, 2011, in the Großer Saal of the Musikverein.]

LC: What about elsewhere in Austria?

PP: I led a choral week in Salzburg in 2004 concentrating on the repertoire, with a big service in the Cathedral – which houses an 60-stop Metzler. All tracker, two assistants, and a lot of sweat and blood...

Peter Planyavsky plays a free organ recital at Kresge Auditorium, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, on Friday, January 27 at 8 p.m.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Countdown to Planyavsky at MIT (18 days)

Peter Planyavsky with the author (Brookline, March 9, 2004). Seems odd that the Austrian is drinking the chianti and the Italian is drinking the Weizenbier!

In March, 2004, at St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Brookline, MA (where I was then Music Director), I organized "HeillerFest," a week-long festival commemorating the 25th anniversary of the death of the great Anton Heiller. Naturally, a "HeillerFest" would not have been complete with Heiller's star pupil, close friend, and future biographer, Peter Planyavsky. The following is an excerpt from an article that I wrote for the July, 2004, issue of The Diapason. The excerpt describes the opening event, a Choral Evensong which I personally tailored with the sole purpose of showing off Planyavsky's improvisational gifts.

"There are two types of performers: those who emit electricity, intensity, and sometimes neurosis, for whom every piece seems a matter of life or death (Caruso, Horowitz, Heifetz); and those who exude mental and physical health, for whom each pieces feels like the first of many encores (Gigli, Rubinstein, Kreisler). Peter Planyavsky is of the second type. The 75-minute Evensong service seemed short. One felt that another twenty-five improvisations could have fallen from his sleeve without any detectable effort.

"There is something Beethovenian about Planyavsky, a certain Viennese ruggedness. It snowed as we walked down St. Paul Street together, yet he seemed unconcerned about his photocopied prelude and postlude which he held, uncovered, under his arm. "In Vienna I always walk around like this, "he explained. He spent not much more than an hour at the Bozeman organ, an eclectic instrument on which the stop names are on plaques next to the stop knobs. I myself occasionally pull the wrong stop! Not only did he never do that, but he had a total comprehension of the organ's tonal resources, as if he already knew how every combination would or wouldn't work.

"I knew firsthand of Planyavsky's brilliance as a liturgical improviser, and I designed the Evensong around it. No trite compline hymns for him; I chose Aus tiefer Not and O Welt, ich muß dich lassen. And while the prayerbook rubric permits a "moment of silence" before the Mag and the Nunc, respectively, I translated "moment of silence" as "three-to-five-minute organ improvisation." The individual improvisations complemented and contrasted each other: the simple effectiveness of his bicinium on Le Cantique de Siméon; the color and fluid virtuosity of his Magnificat; the rich, impenitently German-Romantic O Welt; and so on. Each improvisation seemed to enhance the others." (From The Diapason, July 2004, p. 14)

Peter Planyavsky plays an organ recital at Kresge Auditorium, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, on Friday, January 27 at 8 p.m. Admission for this grand event is FREE.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Countdown to Planyavsky at MIT (19 days)

The following is a humorous explanation by Peter Planyavsky of why he became a composer. (As you will see, he pokes fun both at himself and at the state of music in the Church at one time.)

"Before somebody else comes forward and makes it public, I would rather admit it myself: I ALSO COMPOSE.

"First, I had not planned it, but – I realized it very soon – I was literally forced to become active in that direction. Of course there were a few pieces out there that had been composed, but many of them were not very useful. To name just a few examples: some songs by Mozart and Hugo Wolf were indeed of acceptable quality and were actually usable as Responsorial Psalms; however, the texts were very questionable. Attempts to use drastically abridged scenes (without the scenery) from Wagner operas as Offertories failed, because somewhere in the middle the next Mass would begin.

"And as for solo organ music – ask yourself: will you torment yourself and the audience with such minor masters as Murschhauser or Reger? No, ultimately we must do everything ourselves.

"This train of thought was shared by many. (Not that they all composed for themselves! They gave me commissions. [...]) The train of thought was shared also by some publishers. (Not that they all composed for themselves either! But they printed compositions of mine.) [...] The reasonings of all these people were evidently found to be correct by all the other people who decided to perform my pieces. [...]"

(From the official website of Peter Planyavsky,, English translation by Leonardo Ciampa.)

And now, Planyavsky's most popular composition, the Toccata alla Rumba. The sheet music has sold many thousands of copies. (One wonders, however: would this be best used as a Responsorial Psalm or an Offertory?)

(performed by Ines Maidre, in concert at Altenberg Cathedral)

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Countdown to Planyavsky at MIT (20 days)

A personal anecdote about Peter Planyavsky the Improviser:

In late February, 2008, Plany made a quick and somewhat secretive trip to Boston. He was not playing any concerts; he was here only to work on his Heiller biography which he was writing at the time. He emailed to me and asked if I wanted to get a cup of coffee. I offered to take him to see the important 1893 Woodberry & Harris organ in Charlestown.

We met at First Lutheran in Boston, where he wanted to see the stunningly beautiful Richards, Fowkes & Co. organ for the first time. (And I met the church's brilliant organist, Balint Karosi, for the first time.)

The three of us exchanged brief pleasantries, Plany sat down at the organ, and he improvised at length in the North German Baroque style. But REALLY in the style. He tried out all the stops, naturally, and improvised in a myriad of Baroque forms, all authentically. He made commentary along the way about the organ, showing his knowledge and understanding of organbuilding, as well.

Plany and I left and headed for the Orange Line, which took us to the organ in Charlestown. The whole ride I had his beautiful sounds in my ear and marveled as how his improvising could be so "correct" yet also musical, fresh, organic, personal. Nothing "boring" or "academic" about the playing at all.

We arrive in Charlestown, he sits down at this 1893 organ, and now he's improvising in the Victorian style. REALLY in the style. He's all over the organ's three keyboards in grand fashion. I couldn't get over it. 45 minutes before he was a contemporary of Buxtehude; now suddenly he was a chum of Parry! (Except that Parry probably never played on two manuals with one hand at the same time.)

I just couldn't get over how quickly and easily he could "change the channel" and improvise, both effortlessly and AUTHENTICALLY, in two utterly different sound-worlds. It would hard to say which he did better. He is as gifted as he is down-to-earth – one of the true greats that I have ever met.

Planyavsky will end his MIT concert on January 27th with a grand improvisation. Suffice it to say that I'm looking forward to it!

Friday, January 6, 2012

Countdown to Planyavsky at MIT (21 days)

Here is the program that Peter Planyavsky will play at MIT's Kresge Auditorium on Friday, January 27 at 8 p.m. – with a few words about the unusual work by Anton Heiller.

Fantasy in B flat major
Alexandre Pierre F. Boëly (1785-1858)

Kleine Partita über "Nun komm der Heiden Heiland"
Anton Heiller (1923-1979)(Reconstructed by Monika Henking)

"Wer nur den lieben Gott läßt walten"
Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)

Toccata in C major (BWV 566)
J. S. Bach

I n t e r m i s s i o n

Sonate II (Lebhaft - Ruhig bewegt - Fuge: Mäßig bewegt, heiter)
Paul Hindemith (1895-1963)

Fugue in f minor
Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847)

Allegro, Choral and Fugue

Improvisation on a submitted theme

A word about Heiller's Kleine Partita on "Nun Komm":

On September 14, 1972, Heiller played a recital on the historic organs of Udine Cathedral, in the North of Italy. He improvised eight variations on "Nun Komm, der Heiden Heiland." Heiller's brilliant student and companion, Monika Henking, notated the variations based on a recording of the concert. Heiller did not have huge confidence in the musical worth of his improvisations, but he felt Henking's impressive reconstruction was accurate and allowed it to be published. It is an interesting work, atypical in many ways of the music he was composing in 1972.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Countdown to Planyavsky at MIT (22 days)

A message from Marian Ruhl Metson:

Dear Leonardo,

I am thrilled that you are bringing Peter Planyavsky to play at Kresge at the end of this month. It was his teacher, Anton Heiller, whom I first heard at Kresge in October of 1965, that inspired me to go to Vienna to study in 1967. This was when the first Fisk was being installed at Harvard, and I was able to negotiate some time off from my job as Assistant Organist. When I arrived, I met the nineteen-year-old Peter who was Heiller's pride and joy. Besides playing the repertoire at an extremely mature level, like Heiller, he was also a brilliant improviser. I tried to keep track of his career and accomplishments over the years, so when I had an opportunity to play his "Fantasie in Memory of AH" at the Legacy of Anton Heiller series at Old West in May of 2009, I did so, in spite of having broken my wrist four months earlier. As you know, as my able stop puller/page turner, I had my doubts as to whether or not I could pull it off. It may be the only organ piece written that has sections for both hands playing on two manuals at the same time, along with a double pedal part. Your contribution to this effort will always remain a secret, right?

Marian Ruhl Metson
Auburn, CA

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Countdown to Planyavsky at MIT (23 days)


Last January, when David Briggs played a full-length recital on the historic 1955 Holtkamp at MIT's Kresge Auditorium, it was the first full-length recital on that organ by an internationally renowned organist in ... how many years? 30? 35? 40? There was an unmistakable feeling in the air that it was An Event. As an audience member myself, I can attest that it was.

This year, on Friday evening, January 27 at 8 p.m., no less than PETER PLANYAVSKY, one of Austria's greatest musicians and one of the world's most famed organists, will play the second annual recital in Kresge.

In the coming days, I will be posting information, anecdotes, and other interesting tidbits about Maestro Planyavsky, his program, Holtkamp, and MIT.

Admission to this great event is FREE.

Respectfully yours,

Leonardo Ciampa

Artistic Director of Organ Concerts at MIT

P.S. Earlier that afternoon, Planyavsky will also lead a masterclass at Boston University's Marsh Chapel, co-sponsored by BU and MIT. More information about that event will be forthcoming, as well.